Understanding FedEx Cup Points

With the 2007 season, the PGA Tour has embarked on a grand experiment, testing whether an individual sport like golf can produce a meaningful competitive season, playoff and championship.

The solution is a rather convoluted system that separates the year into three parts: the regular season, the playoffs and the fall series.

In the regular season, players earn points based on how they do in tournaments. The points roughly approximate the percentage distribution of money in a tournament.

For example, in a regular tournament, the winner is awarded 4,500 points; second gets 2.700 and so on. A player finishing in 100th place receives 35 points.

Points are more heavily weighted toward more prestigious events. At the majors, for example, first place is worth 4,950 points. World Golf Championship events are worth 4,725 for a first place finish. Opposite field events are devalued, with first being worth just 2,250.

To see how points are distributed among the top twenty players in an event, see the chart below.

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The regular season begins with the Mercedes Benz in January and ends with the Wyndham in Mid August.Once the regular season is over, the top scoring 144 players will be eligible to continue in the playoffs.I’ve not done any deep mathematical modeling, but working through a couple of scenarios, it seems that the Tour is right in that the points system should encourage the top players to play more often (assuming they care enough about the Fedex Cup to want to play four weeks in a row in August.)

Steady accumulation of points is going to be the key to getting a good seeding in the playoffs.I also see a danger here: players mailing it in at certain tournaments—not playing to win, but just hard enough to get the points they need to jump up one or two seeds. (perhaps we should coin a phrase here: “FedEx ing it in.”

This could be especially true for some of the name players who tend to participate in fewer tournaments overall. They could get a couple of top tens to guarantee their position in the final 144, and then just monkey around for points here and there.As the playoffs begin with the Barclays, points will be restarted and equalized according to their seeds.

The first place player (presumably Mr. Woods), will start over with 100,000 points. Second place will start over with 99,000; third, with 98,500. The 144th place player starts over with 84,700 points.

The goal for each player in the playoffs is to make the top 70 in a tournament; doing so adds to the point totals. Of the 144 starters at the Barclays, only 120 will move on to the following week’s Deutsche Bank. Just seventy will make the BMW Championship. And only the top thirty after three weeks will make the finale in the Tour Championship.Points for placing in the playoff tournaments are higher than in the regular events.

A first place in the first three playoff events is worth 9,000 points; second is worth 5,400, third, 3,400; 70th and last is worth just 100.In the Tour Championship—the final event, first is worth 10,300; second 6,200; third 3,900 all the way down to 395 points for 30th.

Ten million will go to the winner of the FedEx Cup Championship, which will not necessarily be the player who wins the Tour Championship at the end of the series.The format of the championship allows the top players to have an off week and still get to the Tour Championship.

In particular, the Tour wanted to avoid having Tiger somehow miss the first cut and be out of the race; that would be certain death to the series.The bunching of the points, however, also seems to make it possible that the 144th player at the start could get into the finals.

The third phase of the season is the Fall Series. The Tour bills these seven tournaments as a chance for players on the bubble to earn enough cash to keep their cards. I see it as a strange addendum to the season.What bothers me about the season end is that it undermines the FedEx points system. For all of the talk about the “chase for the cup”, all that really matters in the end is being high enough on the money list to retain the card.

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